The Conclusion: Making a Living as Organic Farmers

We went into our workamping gig at White Rabbit knowing that farming is no picnic. The week we were leaving White Rabbit, things got interesting. The State of Florida’s Department of Agriculture threatened to shut down Brian and Valerie’s store for non-compliance. It was an incredibly sad week before we left, and in this interview, taken just two days after the shake down, Brian and Valerie aren’t too thrilled with farming.

Did You Know Food Grows in Dirt and Poo?
Apparently, some city person got uppity about the open air aspect of their store, and sent a letter to the Ag Nazis. Maybe this idiot was there when the pony walked inside (he often begged for treats), or Jerry hanging out by the cooler, or they got eggs that might have had some chicken shit on them (gasp!). We assume it was a new customer who didn’t like knowing exactly where their food came from, and was uncomfortable buying it in such close proximity to dirt, cow shit, and flocks of chickens. It could have also been a cash-strapped government agency just looking for money, and White Rabbit, with all of the attention focused on it thanks to our recent marketing efforts, was an easy target. In either case, everyone loses thanks to government interference.

The gist of it is that the store didn’t meet the requirements for selling non-produce food items — they resold many organic products other than veggies — and thousands of dollars in inventory had to get pulled from the shelves unless Brian agreed to comply by spending thousands of dollars to enclose the building. As he says in the video, doing so would go against the reasons he became a farmer. Meanwhile, Vero Beach locals will have to drive an hour in either direction to find the kind of selection of organic foods that White Rabbit had.

Two months on the farm wasn’t nearly long enough to learn the ins and outs of everything, but we did manage to get a good idea of what life is like as a professional farmer. Growing what you eat from seed, raising animals and “processing” them, and making people happy with your organic products are such huge rewards. Once, when I was working in the store, a regular customer started telling me about his cancer battle. He picked out his dark leafy greens, then he simply said “You guys are saving my life.” I’m not sure there’s a desk job that could give that kind of satisfaction.

Making a Living as an Organic Farmer: I’ll Pass

My own personal discovery while living on the farm was that now I know I definitely do not want to be a full-time farmer. I like the ability to take time off, way too much. I’d be happy with a hobby farm some day, but I don’t want to depend on it entirely for our income. The amount of debt I could see us getting into if we had a real farm is terrifying, and I don’t know that much about farm equipment to be able to maintain it. We just aren’t cut out for full time farming, and until we get the travel bug out of our system, I can’t see being tied down to such a huge commitment. But, we are definitely cut out for a small garden that would feed us, and any guests if we had a resort property, some day. And I do want my Farmall too, darn it!

Farming for Fun and Profit in Winter 08/09

Later this year, barring any unforeseen circumstances, we will go back to the farm for another winter season. Brian and Valerie have offered a small plot on their farm for us to cultivate from the beginning, on which we’ll grow veggies and sell them at the Fort Pierce market under White Rabbit’s name. I like this idea. It will be a challenge for me to farm in Florida soil, but I like the thought of carrying out a project like this from beginning to end.

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16 Responses to “The Conclusion: Making a Living as Organic Farmers”

  1. Loved the video. I can’t believe how clueless some people are and how they just don’t get that when they cause issues for farmers and the farming industry in general they’re really harming our society. Half of the reason kids don’t know how to work these days is because they don’t have a place like the farm to go bust their butts and learn to work. When the government is slowly driving all the small farms out of business, they better plan on watching some work ethic go with it.

  2. I think some of these idiots should go into an intensive food production line and experience the nasty side of mass food production and the poor hygiene standards.

    But then milk comes from a supermarket doesn’t it??

    Good luck with the organic faming in 09

  3. Organic Food, I hear you. But just today I was reading about Obama’s appointment of Vilsack means more attention will be given to the development of small, rural farms. Let’s keep our finger’s crossed.

  4. Being an organic food convert I spend as much time as I’m allowed trying to extole the virtues of organic produce to friends and family.

    The main concern ‘ordinary’ people have is that the cost compared to other foods is prohibitive. This doesn’t have to be the case.

    My concern is about the organic food farmers. If the amount of effort and time that goes into beginning an accredited organic farm isn’t offset some way by tax breaks we will find it increasingly more difficult to get good local organic food. We will then have to rely on mass produced organic food and to be honest I’m not sure I will trust the ‘big; farming multinational groups when they see organic foods as a growth industry and start squeezing out the little man.

  5. Give the farmers credit it is hard work. Good Luck!

  6. You know, I really love the idea of organic but have also heard many produce don’t come even close due to mislabeling and the law loophole that exists.

    I farmed in my school vacations as a teenagers and although it was fun, I wouldn’t want to do this full time. It is hard work and one would need to love the rough life to appreciate full time farming.

  7. It kills me that food is so undervalued that individual food growers can’t make money – that we have had to industrialize something this natural – that something this basic – selling a few eggs is now illegal.

    just not right.

  8. Good luck. I’ve worked in Florida and the soil can take some getting used to.

  9. Thanks for commenting Vic. Have fun full-timing, you’ll love it!

  10. Nice clip. Makes a good point. I am a UF alumni from Ag economics and worked many years marketing the corporate chemical programs for animal and plant agriculture. It certainly has its place, but so do these folks. The govt. systems for “so called” public health sometimes override common sense. I grew up on a FL farm ( http://www.chumuckla.com) and appreciated a lot of the self farm produced foods. I like the concept of RV workers trading work for space. I’ve been reading some blogs about full time RV life and it looks great. I think this is what we will be doing in a year or so. Meanwhile a book on the organic vs industrial farm issues may be a good read. See “The Omnivore’s Dilemma“.

  11. Eric Auckerman February 8, 2008 at 3:53 pm Reply

    I’m wth senior Jefe on this one cause we can never have too many cottage/micro -farmers in this country. Were not the first (and this is for your benefit Rene as I know you appreciate historical revisionisms) “occupiers” of this country farmers? I would venture that farming gave humanity the means to build dual-tired diesels for pulling fifth wheels if you think about it.

    Without farmers supplying us our ever in-demand sustenance when would our species have had the time to devise clocks, stainless steel, and pichinko machines? Farming is work like no other work because of the demands on your time, farmers probably have the lowest incidence of crime-related issues as well because of their hours and focus, so farming is a great not just a good thing.

    My own family from Germany were farmers. My grandfather got tired of it as he got elderly but only because he wanted more time with his violin, however, if it wasn’t for our family farm how would everyone have survived WWII if it wasn’t for the family farm?

    My mother tells the story of her mother creating an underground chicken coop so when the retreating German army came through at least her kids could survive, again, farming saved the day.

    Let’s take that dark cloud of German history out of this missive for moment and reflect what farming has done for the US of A. Farming goes back to the earliest reaches of communal living I would wager and this country benefited from such practices since day one (to be PC no one really knows when “day one” was experienced because the cultures who preceded Europeans didn’t keep journals, take photographs, and maintain blogs. Let’s just think of day one as when Europeans successfully settled Mass and a few other scattered locations).

    The indigenous people – as was told by those first Europeans – farmed the land and taught those same people who would one day conquer them how to farm the land. What good natured people those indigenous folks must have been, if only they could have seen the future that was coming their way. Regardless, the first invading occupiers and exploiters of the local native population fine tuned their skills and made it work for the benefit of all. Now look at us, we’re so good at farming that we’ve got self-help books, laptops, and so many people around us that you can’t help but feel warmer knowing that there are more of us each and every succeeding year.

    So stay with the toil and get those fingers in the soil as it’s the farmer who keeps time for us all.

    Over and out – Eric.

    PS: This stream of conscience prose was brought to you in a Politically Correct fashion because it’s so fun and easy to do so.

  12. hail to the farmers!, not enough of them ! btw, latte is laying her green eggs again !

  13. Brian and Valerie are two of the most sincere, caring, generous, and trusting individuals I have ever met. We owe them a debt of gratitude for showing us the ropes of running a farm, not to mention at least seventy five bucks. (They tore up our check when we tried to pay for groceries when we left!)

    I look forward to staying longer next year, finding out if they decided to jump through all the State’s hoops to keep selling all those great products, and spending some more time on the tractor.

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